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Slovak Women of Vojvodina

May 26, 2010

Slovak woman from Pivnice

Just over 56,000 Slovaks remain in the province of Vojvodina today, many whose families have lived here for centuries, including my own.  May 25th was the 240 year anniversary of the arrival of the first of them who were sent here by Queen Maria Teresa when they refused to convert to Catholicism.  They populated the Pannonian Plains along the Danube, Sava and Tisa rivers and were expected to protect the Hungarian border from the Ottoman Empire.  When they arrived, the flat land which had originally been the bottom of the Pannonian Sea was nothing but swampland. The Slovaks dried up the swamp by building canals and man made lakes, cleared the land, settled farms and cultivated the land into the richest soil in Europe.

Slovak woman in Pasova

Through the centuries these Slovaks have been under the control of various countries and governments, including the Hungarians, the Austro-Hungarians, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Yugoslavia, and now Serbia.  Despite persecution, expropriation, countless wars, communism, Tito, and other hardships, this group of proud Slovaks has maintained their culture with their own unique blend of cuisine, dress, religious ceremonies, music and the preservation of the “old Slovak” language that dates back to the early 1700s.

Slovak woman entering her yard.

The women in these pictures display the traditional dress of Slovak women in Vojvodina.   On the day I took these pictures, these women had celebrated The Holy Day of Pentecost, marking the day of the descent of the ghosts upon the apostles.   While dressed in their costumes they rode their bikes to church, sang and celebrated in the morning service, then rode back home.  They spent Monday afternoon sitting in their yards often visiting with one another, watching the world go by, on a rare day of rest.  A woman dressed in black is in mourning; the woman below had recently lost her son, a priest in a local village.

Slovak woman in mourning over the loss of her son

Each piece of the traditional outfit is handmade.  Members of the village specialize in making certain pieces: one woman will make the handmade shoes, another the underskirts (they are made of layers and layers of heavy crinolin, easily weighing over 20 lbs), another makes the overskirt, still another woman embroiders the apron and shirt.  And then there are the hair pieces, jewelry and scarves to be made and knitted vests, sweaters and heavy woolen socks.  I counted over 15 pieces that are assembled for these costumes.  Each village has their own distinct colors and patterns. The surprising part – these Slovak women do not wear underwear, just a slip.

Slovak woman riding her bike home after church

When I was little, my grandmother gave me two Slovak outfits – one red, one blue; I still have them today.  On my recent visit to Vojvodina, I was treated to a special surprise by my cousin and her friends who dressed me in an authentic Slovak costume.   It took 4 people and 1/2 hr to get it on and it was very heavy to wear.  One day I will share these pictures in public. Maybe. And yes, I kept my underwear on.

When asked if they minded me taking their picture, most readily obliged and often blushed. They are rarely photographed (there is little tourism here);  I was lucky to have a peak into the rhythm of their daily lives.  After the pictures were taken I thanked them and they replied in Slovak, “with grace.”

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicholas Harmon permalink
    May 26, 2010 3:43 pm

    It is amazing that this quiet, rural life with all of its special Slovak traditions still exists in today’s Europe. Its nice that you got to experience it and discover what life was like for many of your relatives over the past several centuries.

    • May 26, 2010 3:50 pm

      So does that mean you are ready to move there with me? I promise to wear the traditional costume!

  2. May 26, 2010 4:22 pm

    And You didn’t visited centre of Voivodina Slovak = Backi Petrovac?

    • May 26, 2010 5:32 pm

      I did! I attended the Sausage Festival, and had lunch with the Miklovic family. I saw the huge nests and storks too.

  3. clatterbach permalink
    May 26, 2010 4:30 pm

    Incredible! Unfortunately, I wonder how long this kind of lifestyle will persist in the EU with all the pressures it brings. The tourism too may come in places as people begin to branch out from the Tatras and Bratislava talking of the “real Slovakia” like people talk of rural Spain, France, Italy etc. in trying to brag about their own superior brand of tourism.

    The lifestyles of Slovakia certainly remind me of rural Ireland two to three decades ago. My parents are from the West and I used to visit often. Ireland has changed so much now that I am wary of going back. With increased openness and interdependence comes a lot of social pressures. I was also reading today, in a book about the Berlin Wall, that not Germany or France, not the UK or Italy but Slovakia now has the highest number of people working on the production line in car plants per head of population in Europe.

    In Slovakia the older generations will certainly hold on to their traditions, and the young too are proud and often fiercely nationalistic, but it is going against the flow to hold on to such traditions. Good luck to them.

    • May 26, 2010 5:35 pm

      Hello there. I am not surprised about the car plants and Slovaks. When they moved to the US, many of them worked in the mines and also in Detroit at the car plants there. They are very hard, dependable workers, and do not demand much or complain.

      I too worry about the traditions dying out. I recently read that it is predicted that with the current trend of assimilation, that the Vojvodina Slovak traditions will disappear in our lifetime. This makes me very sad.

  4. Rebecca Bončo permalink
    June 2, 2010 3:17 pm

    You captured the true beauty of these women! The first women reminds me of my husband’s stara mama. She is living in Skalica, SK (west SK). We visit her and my in-laws every year. The past few years we have gone we are so surprised to see the changes in his small town. At first Lidl came, then Billa, now Tesco and Max. All the smaller family run stores are slowly going out of business:( Slowly the uniquness of the town is crumbling away like the “kings wall” that surrounds it.

    • June 2, 2010 4:04 pm

      You are very poetic in your description of the changes. I am in Slovakia now, and am really surprised at how modern it is quickly becoming, and how fast the old ways are fading.

      In Vojvodina, time moves more slowly, and the good food and old customs still abound.

  5. Danijela permalink
    July 24, 2010 4:43 pm

    Oh, yes! I come from Stara Pazova, Serbia, where Slovaks make a great deal of the population. I am not a Slovak woman but I can tell you that they are wonderful cooks! Just to think of their rolls (kifle) and meatballs (cufte)… Mmmmm…. My auntie is Slovak and she cooks great!

    • July 26, 2010 10:55 am

      Yes, I spent several days there this past May with my Slovak relatives, and LOVED it. I have never had kifle before – it was heavenly. I loved everything I ate there, and I don’t know why it all tastes so good. It’s the food I grew up with at my grandmother’s, and I was thrilled to see they still cook the same way over 70 years later. Check out the pictures on Pauline’s Cookbook on Facebook – lots from Stara Pazova.

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